SpaceX satellites pose new headache for astronomers

In this screengrab taken from a video shot by Marco Langbroek, a group of SpaceX Starlink satellites passes over Leiden, Netherl
In this screengrab taken from a video shot by Marco Langbroek, a group of SpaceX Starlink satellites passes over Leiden, Netherlands on May 24, 2019

It looked like a scene from a sci-fi blockbuster: an astronomer in the Netherlands captured footage of a train of brightly-lit SpaceX satellites ascending through the night sky this weekend, stunning space enthusiasts across the globe.

But the sight has also provoked an outcry among astronomers who say the constellation, which so far consists of 60 broadband-beaming satellites but could one day grow to as many as 12,000, may threaten our view of the cosmos and deal a blow to .

The launch was tracked around the world and it soon became clear that the satellites were visible to the : a new headache for researchers who already have to find workarounds to deal with objects cluttering their images of deep space.

"People were making extrapolations that if many of the satellites in these new mega-constellations had that kind of steady brightness, then in 20 years or less, for a good part the night anywhere in the world, the would see more satellites than stars," Bill Keel, an at the University of Alabama, told AFP.

The satellites' brightness has since diminished as their orientation has stabilized and they have continued their ascent to their final orbit at an altitude of 550 kilometers (340 miles).

But that has not entirely allayed the concerns of scientists, who are worried about what happens next.

Elon Musk's SpaceX is just one of a several companies looking to enter the fledgling space internet sector.

To put that into context, there are currently 2,100 active satellites orbiting our planet, according to the Satellite Industry Association.

If another 12,000 are added by SpaceX alone, "it will be hundreds above the horizon at any given time," Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told AFP, adding that the problem would be exacerbated at certain times of the year and certain points in the night.

This screengrab taken from the SpaceX webcast transmission on May 23, 2019, shows a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with 60 Starlink sate
This screengrab taken from the SpaceX webcast transmission on May 23, 2019, shows a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with 60 Starlink satelites lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

"So, it'll certainly be dramatic in the if you're far away from the city and you have a nice, dark area; and it'll definitely cause problems for some kinds of professional astronomical observation."

Musk's puzzling response

The mercurial Musk responded to the debate on Twitter with contradictory messages, pledging to look into ways to reduce the satellites' reflectivity but also saying they would have "0% impact on advancements in astronomy" and that telescopes should be moved into space anyway.

He also argued the work of giving "billions of economically disadvantaged people" high-speed internet access through his network "is the greater good."

Keel said he was happy that Musk had offered to look at ways to reduce the reflectivity of future satellites, but questioned why the issue had not been addressed before.

If optical astronomers are concerned, then their radio astronomy colleagues, who rely on the electromagnetic waves emitted by celestial objects to examine phenomena such as the first image of the black hole discovered last month, are "in near despair," he added.

Satellite operators are notorious for not doing enough to shield their "side emissions," which can interfere with the observation bands that radio astronomers are looking out for.

"There's every reason to join our radio astronomy colleagues in calling for a 'before' response," said Keel.

"It's not just safeguarding our professional interests but, as far as possible, protecting the night sky for humanity."


Explore further

Lights in the sky from Elon Musk's new satellite network have stargazers worried

© 2019 AFP

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May 29, 2019
I hope that eccentric jack---- Musk finally gets fired from his company. Anyone who thinks showing the 3rd world what the 1st has and thinks it's a good idea is a fool.

May 29, 2019
Ummm, put the telescopes in high Earth orbit or above to avoid the tracks of the satellites.

Obvious.

May 29, 2019
Ummm, put the telescopes in high Earth orbit or above to avoid the tracks of the satellites.

Obvious.


That's stupid.

May 29, 2019
Ummm, put the telescopes in high Earth orbit or above to avoid the tracks of the satellites.

Obvious.

Do you, like MacKenzie Bezos, have a spare $36 billion to pay for your "obvious" solution? There are 13 telescopes at Mauna Kea in Hawaii alone. How do you imagine that the equivalent of the W.M. Keck Observatory - 2 x 10 meter telescopes - or the proposed 30 Meter Telescope at that site would be launched into orbit? There are even more large optical telescopes located in Chile, including the 39 meter Extremely Large Telescope currently under construction. Add to that about 100 radio telescopes, including half a dozen 70 meter dishes, a couple of 100 meter dishes, plus the 305 meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the 500 meter FAST telescope being constructed in China. Even the combined Bezos and Gates fortunes would not cover the cost of your harebrained suggestion.

May 29, 2019
So, you're in favor of banning the satellites?

OK. Good luck with that.

May 29, 2019
So, you're in favor of banning the satellites?

Not at all. The Hubble telescope is one of the most amazing instruments that humankind has produced, and I am very much looking forward to the eventual launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (whenever that may occur). But to build and then place in orbit the equivalent of the current earth-based optical and radio telescopes would be horrendously expensive, and take a very long time - even if the finance to construct the telescopes and the vehicles to launch them into orbit could be found.

May 29, 2019
so pomyboy, you cannot resist your petulant need (flatulent?) to display your primitive bigotry & ignorance of World Trade.

We consume the resources that the rest of the World produces. They consume America's output of taxpayer subsidized obsolete weaponry.
Our defective medicines the Wall Street drug cartel are bot permitted to sell for domestic consumption
Our bulk agriculture.
& by far, the most important export, the avalanche of "culture" we send abroad.

Now ponyboy, for a dullard like you? This last part will be very difficult for you to comprehend.

We export images & noise we pretend is music & the bastard language we pretend is English.

All as vastly over priced digital signals. We call these products "Culture".
In the grand tradition of Yankee missionaries selling guns & opium to the benighted foreigners.

I am calling you, ponyboy a fake patriot, Or you would appreciate every toy you import?
Deprives the toy exporter's military of those resources.

May 29, 2019
I don't think that the high improbability of a millisecond blip across the FOV of a large scope will cause problems, and any wide angle views are already detrimented by human stuff.
By providing internet to the world, there might be more of a chance that there will be more prosperity, and thus, more space scopes, too.

May 29, 2019
giving "billions of economically disadvantaged people" high-speed internet access through his network "is the greater good."


And put all the local ISPs in the developing world out of business in favor of a US company that has the sole control and ability to spy on this network.

What philantrophy.

Not to mention the space junk problem of having 12,000 satellites that are slowly falling out of the sky, not all of which will burn in the atmosphere completely. These are 100-500 kg chunks of e-waste raining down on the earth continuously.

May 29, 2019
By providing internet to the world


Kinda like ending world hunger by shipping tons and tons of subsidized/free food to third world countries, which has the side effect of putting local farmers out of business and making the countries totally dependent on the foreign aid.

This is not charity, this is business sold as charity. The point is to invade the telecoms market of the developing world before they can develop competitive solutions of their own, which will ensure a de-facto monopoly over internet in these regions because any land-based wired or cellular alternatives would have a steep uphill battle to grow to the same scale.


May 29, 2019
Not to mention the space junk problem of having 12,000 satellites that are slowly falling out of the sky, not all of which will burn in the atmosphere completely. These are 100-500 kg chunks of e-waste raining down on the earth continuously.


They will fall out of the sky within few years at most and will burn up almost completely as they are designed to. Single Starlink sat weights around 200kg.

May 29, 2019
This isn't about altruistically providing internet to countries too poor to afford a Cadillac service like this. And, who is funding Musk with the tens of billions it will take?

This is about a global electronic eavesdropping capability that local governments can't tear down like a western intel hacked cell tower or re-reroute like a suspicious commercial airplane flyover with spy gear hidden in the belly.

The reason the model stinks is that it's a Trojan Horse. I mean, 6 times the number of existing satellites for one communications system is obscene. This is an electronic surveillance blanket for a prison planet.

And, it's going to make the night sky look like crap.

The solution is that they don't need this many satellites for one communication system, they only need this many satellites for a global surveillance system; thus, put this thing back in its lane and make a sensible communication system.

May 29, 2019
@Eikka

Yes, it's also about control of markets and stifling third world local competition, but not because there's money in it, because it ensures (continued) hegemonic control and surveillance over the internet itself.

May 29, 2019
This is not privatization of space. It's crony capitalism fueled by intelligence concerns. And it has already ruined social media. Whenever something is free (or sold to you at a loss), then YOU are the product.

Besides wrecking the night skies, what is so disgusting about this program is that it is actually collapsing a profitable industry in satellite communications systems. Backers of profitable ventures see the prospect of being pushed aside by a money losing goliath with endless pockets they can't compete with. And so they are sidelining their ventures and their money.

May 29, 2019
Were we truly capitalist rather than crony-capitalist, there is a market based solution to this tragedy of the commons that threatens to dangerously and unattractively clutter orbital space:
Convene an international body to issue a fixed number of satellite permits and auction them off.

There are 2,000 existing satellites now. Grandfather them with permits, and then auction off another 15,000 for a total of 17,000 permits. I guarantee the fair market price would force a re-think of the viability of this program.

But of course, it's not economically viable, it's crony capitalism fueled by intelligence concerns, and it's prepared to spend tens of billions for global hegemonic control and surveillance.

May 29, 2019

They will fall out of the sky within few years at most and will burn up almost completely as they are designed to. Single Starlink sat weights around 200kg.


So, 12,000 x 200 kg = 2.4 million kg of junk slowly falling down and being replaced just as soon, providing a continuous rain of garbage down on all points of the earth.

There's about 70% chance the waste will land on the ocean, 28% chance that it rains down on uninhabited areas, and 2% chance that it falls on where people live, approximately based on land areas and where the constellations are supposed to fly over. That's 48 tons of junk sprinkled on cities and towns every couple years all over the world.

And it burns up "almost completely", except the little bits of molten nuts and bolts and pieces of circuit boards, residues from fuel tanks etc. that rain down on people.

May 29, 2019
I was assuming they had a plan to de-orbit them over the Pacific somewhere as they were systematically decommissioned and replaced. If not, that's even crazier.

May 30, 2019
Mars is just public relations. If you believe in Maris I have a bridge to sell you and a flying car to wait decades for like fusion power.

Musk and Bezos are using Mars as a smokescreen of goodwill to implement this global network of surveillance and internet control.

The other thing that could be done with a blanket of 12,000 low earth orbit satellites is jam all the higher orbit military satellites in wartime. That will really jazz the Chinese and the Russians.

May 30, 2019
Ummm, put the telescopes in high Earth orbit or above to avoid the tracks of the satellites.

Obvious.


The Europeans are spending $1 billion on a massive Earth-bound telescope. Sure, lets just mothball billions in observatories and hamper astronomy for the sake of that megalomaniac Boer.

May 30, 2019
I was assuming they had a plan to de-orbit them over the Pacific somewhere as they were systematically decommissioned and replaced. If not, that's even crazier.


They don't have enough thrust to do a full controlled braking and de-orbiting maneuver - they use ion thrusters which have only enough push to cancel out the atmospheric drag. The 340 km orbit they're at has enough drag that without active propulsion they fall down within 12 months. You could make that shorter by reversing the thrusters, but it would still take months and where you end up would still be mostly down to luck. Musk won't add bigger thrusters or any more fuel if he can get away with simply letting them fall out of the sky.

Technically, not all of the Starlink satellites operate in the same orbital shell. Some are higher up but the majority of 7,500 satellites skim the atmosphere to have the lowest possible latency (25-35 ms) to the end users. That's what makes the system work.

May 30, 2019
Moreover, it requires a significant chunk of their fuel budget to completely change the satellite's orbit down to some "garbage collection" spot. That fuel could be used to keep the satellite in orbit for another year or two, saving the company millions in the extended service life.

So, the profit motive here goes against responsible decommissioning. This is why Musk is going for the "It will burn up completely" angle on the story - which we know will be half untrue in the best Musk tradition. In reality quite a bit of de-orbiting satellites end up on the ground, and even if they're pulverized to tiny grains the hazardous chemicals and material still gradually float around onto everyone.

May 30, 2019
Irresponsible Litter Louts

What happened to responsibly clearing up your rubbish
Come to that
What happened to the clean air act
Don't these companies have to abide by all these rules and regulations
When Musk's refuse starts falling on our cities
Falling on the leaning tower of Pisa
it won't be just refuse raining down on our cities
Does not musk have a pity penny?
For all the law suits Leaning Musk's way

May 30, 2019
So, 12,000 x 200 kg = 2.4 million kg of junk slowly falling down and being replaced just as soon, providing a continuous rain of garbage down on all points of the earth.


Yes, the entire constellation will have a mass of only around 2400 tons. This is completely insignificant as far as any pollution is concerned, no matter how much you try to pretend otherwise. These satellites will burn up into mostly harmless CO2 and water, with some other simple elements, too.

You are spamming scientifically illiterate BS as usual, anytime Musk is mentioned.

May 30, 2019
This is an NSA scheme to continue to control the internet and gather global electronic intelligence, maybe even jam other satellites in wartime. Musk and Bezos are crony capitalists riding point. Their whole Mars charade was PR to give them street credibility for this endeavor. So, don't cross your fingers for that anytime soon.

What sucks is it's dangerous to people, likely to cause a war, wrecks the night sky, monopolizes six or seven times more satellites than exist right now, and it destroys a very real commercial industry in satellite communications through economic dislocation and unfair government subsidy.

May 30, 2019
From small beginnings this refuse Grows

And So It Begins Small
So, 12,000 x 200 kg = 2.4 million kg of junk slowly falling down and being replaced just as soon, providing a continuous rain of garbage down on all points of the earth.


ShotmanMaslo> Yes, the entire constellation will have a mass of only around 2400 tons. This is completely insignificant as far as any pollution is concerned, no matter how much you try to pretend otherwise. These satellites will burn up into mostly harmless CO2 and water, with some other simple elements, too.

You are spamming scientifically illiterate BS as usual, anytime Musk is mentioned.

Then The Refuse Gets Larger
Then other entrepreneurs
Join the act
Throwing their rubbish on our towns
Then million of entrepreneurs put up tens of millions each year
In no time at all
It's raining cats and Satellites

p.s. who up for this rubbish being dumped in their backyard?

May 30, 2019
it's not the quantity of rubbish you need to be concerned about, it's getting a stray bolt through your head.

May 30, 2019
This is completely insignificant as far as any pollution is concerned, no matter how much you try to pretend otherwise. These satellites will burn up into mostly harmless CO2 and water, with some other simple elements, too.


Significant size chunks of satellites end up falling out of the sky all the way down to the ground. We only have one guy's hasty marketing spiel on the idea that these things "burn up completely" to harmless wisps of vapor.

And it's not going to be just 2400 tons once. As long as the constellation is up, it gets replenished with new satellites, which then rain down continuously as space junk. About 2% of it will end up falling over people, over and over, for as long as the system is up.

May 30, 2019
Musk is leaving himself libel for Law Suits
Exactly
JaxPavan> it's not the quantity of rubbish you need to be concerned about, it's getting a stray bolt through your head.

JaxPavan
This rubbish,
Musk is disposing in this irresponsible way
Means
Musk is leaving himself liable for Law Suits

p.s. we all hope Musk has got access to an expensive Lawyer, that 2bit bolt might cost contemplation time in the naughty house

May 30, 2019
https://en.wikipe...To_Earth
Although most debris burns up in the atmosphere, larger objects can reach the ground intact. According to NASA, an average of one cataloged piece of debris has fallen back to Earth each day for the past 50 years. Despite their size, there has been no significant property damage from the debris.


That's largely because most rockets are launched into equatorial orbits, so they end up falling in the ocean, or in the deserts of Mongolia etc. Most of the satellites themselves go to higher orbits that take decades to centuries to decay, so very little falls back down in a hurry. Yet, pieces as large as a foot in length are known to have survived all the way back and hit people and property.

The Starlink system puts an unprecedented number satellites on nearly polar orbits, so the constellation would cover the entire surface of the earth. This means the satellites can re-enter on almost any piece of land or sea.

May 30, 2019
I think you're focusing on the lesser of many evils here with the rubbish, however dangerous and rude it may be. No one is bothering to cleanup Fukushima, after all.

This is a government-backed, money-losing takeover of space, masquerading as entrepreneurship, with two guys, Bezos and Musk, who have deliberately built up some street credibility with their fake Mars programs as an intel psy-op just to fool you. We saw the same type of government-intel combined with crony capitalism creating social media.

It means a monopoly on satellites, both numerically and strategically. It controls the internet. It provides a platform for global electronic eavesdropping that local nations cannot prevent. It provides a platform to jam all other satellites in wartime. It destroys legitimate profit seeking commercial satellite communications programs. In short it weaponizes space in a way that risks war.

What's more, it's just plain ugly and spoils the view.

May 30, 2019
It's also insane that the only US agency pretending to regulate this guy is the freaking FCC!

May 30, 2019
tsk, tsk jax You are not giving proper credit to George Orwell, The Prophet for the Modern Age
He vividly warned of these endless wars based on perpetual hate campaigns.

Oh, the altright fairytails, fondling firearms, as their penis substitute.
Yet you will NEVER find these agitprop patriotic heroes anywhere near a danger zone facing a determined armed foe.

As Bill Mauldin put it,
These fake heroes are "garritroopers".
Skulking close enough to the front lines, they don't have to keep their uniforms pressed & clean.
& far enough behind the lines, that no one was shooting at them!
The copperhead cowards & quisling sycophants will attack schools, churches, synagogues, mosques. Massacring worshipers & school children & cheerfully shooting law enforcement officers, judges & doctors in the back.
Cause it is the American tradition of the night-riders.
So whats the difference between the trumpeneers & the taliban or isis?
Except for how much they are being paid by saudi pet cult wahhabi.

May 30, 2019
I hope that eccentric jack---- Musk finally gets fired from his company. Anyone who thinks showing the 3rd world what the 1st has and thinks it's a good idea is a fool.
says ThoriumBoy

The third world folks already know what we in the successful nations are about - which makes them terribly unhappy - maybe even jealous and resentful. It is for those reasons that it is unwise to visit those 3rd world folks because they are liable to do untold harm to those who go there with a happy heart to do their utmost to bring happiness, a better life, education, and science to those who have never had such advantages before. Even today, health workers in the Congo are being murdered by the unhappy folks who are dying of Ebola, and are taking it out on the Ebola health carers. Sad turn of events it is.
But it reminds us of that old American ditty that goes, "How're ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree" (Paris)
Jealousy and resentment is a hard taskmaster.

May 30, 2019
THE MAIN CONCERN IS THIS MULTIPLICITY OF OBITAL SPACE FRAGMENTS

Was there not meant to be some semblance of agreement
that
irresponsibly cluttering up this earth
with crises crossed orbital's with shards of metal
that
slice through
metal
Life and limb

As has been pointed out
The Starlink system puts an unprecedented number satellites on nearly polar orbits, so the constellation would cover the entire surface of the earth. This means the satellites can re-enter on almost any piece of land or sea

What with these shards of metal
How are we supposed to leave this planet?

p.s. this is what we have been trying to avoid, flying space ferries through a gauntlet of shards of metal

May 31, 2019
https://phys.org/...ket.html

And, it blew over despite Musk clearly stating it was a legitimate prototype.

I knew I was being played by this clearly fake, aluminum-foil hoax, but I didn't understand until now:

Musk and Bezos are using the Mars charade for credibility, while secretly acting as NSA government proxies in the same manner that Howard Hughes used treasure hunting as credibility while secretly exhuming Russian nuclear subs for the CIA.

In this instance, they are building a very, very dangerously low and obscenely crowded blanket of satellites, for a prison planet of controlled internet, electronic surveillance, and militarized space.

I hate to say it, but if you accept it, then you deserve it I guess.

May 31, 2019
Funny how all the conventional-wisdom trolls are flat-footed on this one. Above your puny pay-grade?

Jun 01, 2019
https://phys.org/news/2019-01-elon-musk-prototype-mars-bound-rocket.html

And, it blew over despite Musk clearly stating it was a legitimate prototype.

I knew I was being played by this clearly fake, aluminum-foil hoax, but I didn't understand until now:

Musk and Bezos are using the Mars charade for credibility, while secretly acting as NSA government proxies in the same manner that Howard Hughes used treasure hunting as credibility while secretly exhuming Russian nuclear subs for the CIA.

In this instance, they are building a very, very dangerously low and obscenely crowded blanket of satellites, for a prison planet of controlled internet, electronic surveillance, and militarized space.
{
I hate to say it, but if you accept it, then you deserve it I guess.
says JaxPavan

Your allegations could be right on the money, Jax. Judging from what has and is being done to President Trump even though innocent of any wrongdoing, the political scheming is fraught with Liars.

Jun 01, 2019
@S_E_U.
Judging from what has and is being done to President Trump even though innocent of any wrongdoing, the political scheming is fraught with Liars.
You make me wonder what you and other 'one-eyed' fellow-travellers in GOP would be doing/saying now IF the shoe was on the other foot...ie, if Obama was the one doing what Trump and his camp have been doing. Would you be as tolerant/forgiving if the person at the centre of this on-going scandal was a Democratic President, mate? I am guessing not. If I'm wrong I apologise in advance, mate. But you will have to go some to convince me otherwise based on what has transpired from you and other 'Trump Apologists' to date.

ps: Do you recall the 'fake fuss' which Trump made about Obama's birth certificate/origins? That makes it double standards if he/you complain now about what people are saying/doing about Trump's admitted Russian-aided election lies and fake news etc. Still, you can try to explain to me why you/he complain now. :)

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